By Michael Griffin, Coffee Research Institute
Although many cultivars of C. arabica exist, C. arabica cultivar Arabica (includes var. typica) and C. arabica var. bourbon (named from the island of Bourbon where it was first cultivated) are considered to be the first. The other cultivars are believed to be a product of these two cultivars. Bourbon coffee was brought to the Americas by the French where it flourishes to this day. Although these two cultivars are planted, there are several other cultivars that have a significant importance in the world.
Production and resistance generally governs the type of coffee that a farm will choose. Cup quality is a secondary factor most of the time.
Typica - This is the base from which many coffee cultivars have been developed. Like the other Arabica cultivars that have been developed from it, Typica plants have a conical shape with a main vertical trunk and secondary verticals that grow at a slight slant. Typica is a tall plant reaching 3.5-4 m in height. The lateral branches form 50-70° angles with the vertical stem. Typica has a very low production, but has an excellent cup quality.
Bourbon - Bourbon produces 20-30% more coffee than Typica, but less coffee than most cultivars. It has less of a conical shape than Typica, but has more secondary branches. The angles between the secondary branches and the main stem are smaller, and the branch points on the main stem are closely spaced. The leaves are broad and wavy on the edges. The fruit is relatively small and dense. The cherries mature quickly and are at a risk of falling off during high winds or rains. The best results for Bourbon are realized between 3,500-6,500 feet. Cup quality is excellent and similar to Typica.
Caturra - Caturra is a mutation of Bourbon discovered in Brazil. It is a mutation with high production and good quality, but requires extensive care and fertilization. It is short with a thick core and has many secondary branches. It has large leaves with wavy borders similar to Bourbon. It adapts well to almost any environment, but does best between 1,500-5,500 feet with annual precipitation between 2,500-3,500 mm. At higher altitudes quality increases, but production decreases.
Catuai - Catuai is a high yielding plant resulting from a cross between Mundo Novo and Caturra. The plant is relatively short, and the lateral branches form close angles with the primary branches. The fruit does not fall off the branch easily, which is favorable with areas with strong winds or rain. Catuai also needs sufficient fertilization and care.
Pache comum - Pache comum is a mutation of Typica first observed on the farm El Brito, Santa Cruz Naranjo, Santa Rosa, Guatemala. Many consider the cup to be smooth or flat. This cultivar adapts well between 3,500-5,500 feet.
Pache colis - Pache colis was found in Mataquescuintla, Guatemala in a farm consisting of Caturra and Pache comum. The fruits are very large and the leaves are roughly textured. Pache colis provides some resistance to phoma. It has secondary and tertiary branching, and typically grows to 0.8-1.25 m. It adapts well to altitudes of 3,000-6,000 feet with temperatures between 20-21°C.
Catimor - Catimor is a cross between Timor (resistant to rust) and Caturra created in Portugal in 1959. Maturation is early and production is very high with yields equal to or greater than the yield of other commercial cultivars. For this reason the method of fertilization and shade must be monitored very closely. The Catimor T-8667 descendants are relatively small in stature, but have large fruits and seeds. The Catimor line T-5269 is strong and adapts will to lower regions between 2,000-3,000 feet with annual rainfall over 3,000 mm. T-5175 is very productive and robust, but can have problems at either very high or very low altitudes. At low altitudes there is almost no difference in cup quality between Catimor and the other commercial cultivars, but at elevations greater than 4,000 feet Bourbon, Caturra, and Catuai have a better cup quality.
Kent - Used for its high yield and resistance to coffee rust.
Mundo Novo - Natural hybrid between Typica and Bourbon that was first found in Brazil. The plant is strong and resistant to disease. Mundo Novo has a high production, but matures slightly later than other cultivars. It does well between 3,500-5,500 feet with an annual rainfall of 1,200-1,800 mm.
Maragogype - Mutation of Typica discovered in Brazil. The Maragogype plant is large and is taller than either Bourbon or Typica. Production is low, but the seeds are very large. Maragogype adapts best between 2,000-2,500 feet. The cup characteristics are highly appreciated in certain markets.
Amarello - This cultivar, as its name indicates, produces a yellow fruit. It is not widely planted.
Blue mountain - A famous cultivar favored for its resistance to the coffee berry disease and ability to thrive in high altitudes. Grown in Jamaica and now in Kona, Hawaii. This cultivar, however, cannot adapt to all climates and maintain its high quality flavor profile.